Tuesday, July 1, 2014

"Hey, Charlie… Black Beard Charlie!"

Charlie (Black Beard) Melton
Photo credit:  Jim Otterstrom

  Melton and his doggies 2013

Most readers here will be familiar with the name "Charles Melton" aka "Black Beard Charlie", and where he fits into the TLB story (nightmare). But here's a recap anyway: He was a friend of Paul Watkins prior to either of them meeting the "Manson Family" et al. He is referred to as "Black Beard Charlie" in Paul Watkin's book, "My Life With Charles Manson". The book, a rare and usually expensive find in print form, is available online in its entirety courtesy of ColScott, at the Colonel's site:
www.tatelabianca.blogspot.com  (The Chapters begin in June 2006. Chapter 1 as well as Chapters 24 and 25 are relevant here.).

Though the following excerpt details Watkin's return to Topanga Canyon after a stay in Northern California; he and Melton had travelled to Northern California together, with stays in Big Sur and the Haight, among other stops. Melton was with Watkins when Watkins was arrested in Half Moon Bay, CA (for possession).

From Little Paul's book:
Black Beard [Charlie Melton] was another "runaway" from L.A. who had shined-on suburbia to take to the hills. He was nineteen, a full-on Kerouac “dharma bum” who could assume the full lotus at the drop of a hat and fall immediately into trancelike meditation. He was tall and slender with a gaunt, El Grecolike face which seemed compatible with his vagrant life-style. Brown, wide-set eyes highlighted his dark complexion. His hair hung to well below his shoulders and was tied at the base of his skull with a strip of rawhide. Black Beard was a student of Eastern religions and he taught me a lot about survival in the wilderness with a pack on my back. We had made camp at Hot Springs canyon, near Esalen, and were committed to the gypsy life, wandering through the forests and along the California coastline.
Melton, originally from Reseda, is listed as also residing during his lifetime in Agoura Hills, Malibu (Topanga), Big Sur, and Ukiah,CA.

Melton was living in the infamous area of Lower Topanga known as the "Snake Pit" when he first met Manson, etc. In "Helter Skelter", Bugliosi writes of Melton's self-professed first visit to Spahn Ranch as being in March of '69. Melton told the story of Tex admiring his beard, and allegedly saying: "Maybe one day Charlie will let me grow a beard.".

From "The Family" by Ed Sanders, 2002 Ed., Thunder's Mouth Press. Available on Amazon:
..."On July 4th, Gypsy, aka Yippie aka Cathy Share and aka Manon Minette, saw fit to take herself to Topanga Lane near the beach in Topanga Canyon to visit Charlie Melton, a bearded friend who lived in a canvas-covered stake truck notable in that it had an automobile seat perched atop its cab.

... Linda Kasabian, her husband Bob, Blackbeard Charles and Jim and Juli Otterstrom - all were living in the stake truck, preparing for that trip to South America. Charles Melton had inherited around $23,000. and some of that was going to pay for the trip. The rest he had been giving away, much to the delight of various Topanga residents.

Inside Melton's trailer, Gypsy picked up his guitar and began to sing "Cease to Exist. "Gypsy began to tell Linda about the Spahn Ranch and particularly about Charles Manson... The others in the trailer were shining Gypsy on, but Gypsy said that their ego wouldn't let them listen to the Truth. Mrs. Kasabian, though reconciled with him for only seven days, was having trouble with him. It seems that already he and Charles Melton had cut her out of the trip to South America. Gypsy invited her to come to the Spahn Ranch. Linda had been planning that day to go to the July 4th Love-In on Topanga beach but she went to the Spahn Ranch instead, taking her 16-month old (daughter) Tanya with her."

Once at Spahn, Linda hooked up with Tex Watson and told him about Melton's inheritance. He "convinced her" to go back and steal the money from Melton.

... "July 5th was a day of happiness for the Family. In the morning, Tanya, Linda, Gypsy, and Mary Brunner went to Topanga Canyon to go to the beach. They ran into Charles Melton and Bob Kasabian behind the Topanga Shopping Center by the creek. They smoked some hellweed and Bob and Charles went off to downtown L.A. to get their passports for their trip. Linda and the girls drove to Melton's canvas truck-house to get her possessions. She dug up a buried Bull Durham pouch full of thirty pink acid tabs. She packed up her gear... Then she went into Melton's duffle bag and removed a Velvet tobacco pouch containing fifty $100-dollar bills that she took to Chatsworth to give to the Wizard: $5,000.

... He (Charlie) was told about the probability that Charles Melton and friends would be coming to the ranch to get back the money. Manson then decided to send Linda to the cave down the creek behind the ranch, to hide from the wrath of her husband.

... All the next day, high up the hill by the cave, the young ladies scanned the dirt driveway of the Spahn Ranch below with binoculars. And, just as predicted, Mr. Melton, Bob Kasabian, and Jim Otterstrom pulled into the drive in their stake-bed truck. Charles Melton asked someone by the boardwalk to locate Gypsy and Linda. The person left and returned with Manson, who rewarded Melton with a kill me/ kill you routine. According to Melton, Charlie said: "Who are Linda and Gypsy? I can't even remember their names."

Melton replied: "They took $5,000 from me."

Manson said: "What's money? Nothing is yours. "Then Charlie took out his knife and handed it to Melton, urging him to kill Charlie with Charlie's own knife. Mr. Melton refused the proffered knife. Manson said: "Then maybe I should kill you to show you that there's no such thing as death."

At this point, Melton and company were quick to drive away into the wind."
Otterstrom worked, during this time frame, as a cook and dishwasher at the Topanga Kitchen, a restaurant located at the Topanga Shopping Center (at the junction of Topanga Cyn Blvd and Old (Topanga) Cyn Rd. The Market that Sadie walked to to get supplies and soup during the Hinman killing is still there. The Canyon Kitchen, long gone, was owned by Susan Acevedo, Neil Young's first wife. "Manson Family" members frequented the Kitchen often.

Melton and Bob Kasabian, alleged by some to have been lovers, remained close friends and were photographed attending the TLB trial together in 1970.

Also early in 1970, during the fire/attempt on Paul Watkin's life, Paul was in a camper (microbus?) belonging to Mark Ross, parked outside of Melton's place.

Charlie Melton and Robert Kasabian at Tate-LaBianca trial (Melton opening door)

Bugliosi wanted to use Melton on the witness stand to testify as to Tex's alleged remark about growing a beard, but says by that time Melton was unreachable, having gone off with Bob Kasabian to Hawaii to "meditate in a cave".

Melton and Jim Otterstrom remained lifelong friends, according to Jim Otterstrom. They are those rare people who lived their "hippie ideal" (beautifully idealistic and participatory) beliefs throughout their lives. I really admire that. Jim Otterstrom wrote in his blog that he and Melton both attended the same school in Reseda albeit several years apart, became friends, and through the years continued to get together a couple of times a year.

 The late Jim Otterstrom and Melton
at a party celebrating Otterstrom's retirement from the Postal Service (1971-2001)
Photo credit:  Jim Otterstrom

I'm sad to say Jim Otterstrom has passed away. His blog tells of his love for the earth, animals, and nature, and his family and friends.You can read it at:

Here is an obituary that really captures his essence and legacy:

Another thing I really dislike about Manson:  I don't believe, and yes, to state the obvious, it's just
my opinion, that he has ever had an original thought in his head. We can ask the philosophical question: "Does anyone really ever have an 'original' thought, or is there truly 'nothing new on heaven or earth...'"? But while Manson and his "band of merry humpers", as Phil Kaufman referred to them, were polluting the gorgeous wilderness around Spahn with oil pans, tires, and hulks of stolen Volkswagons that remain there to this day while he milks the whole ATWA schtick; Melton and Otterstrom and others like them were living to make the world a better place. Idealistic, maybe. But nevertheless wonderful. And man, it sure would be a great time to sit down and hang out with Blackbeard Charlie, who now goes by the nickname: "Tower Charlie". Smoke some hellweed, and see where the conversation takes us...